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PoliticsFixing the Unfixable: Queen Street “Beautification” Project Is Absurd

Fixing the Unfixable: Queen Street “Beautification” Project Is Absurd

Fixing the Unfixable: Queen Street “Beautification” Project Is Absurd

The City of Ottawa is now studying design proposals for the transformation of Queen Street into a new “Showcase Street” and pedestrian route.

Why do these well-paid planners live in such a dream world? Everyone knows Queen Street is wretchedly ugly (save for a very few architectural triumphs) and the usual mundane solution of wider sidewalks, trees in buckets and oily benches isn’t going to turn this dumpy, crumbling thoroughfare into the Champs-Élysées.

Ottawa has one of the most blighted downtowns of any city in the country – full of cheap civil service hives, glass boxes reflecting each other, and utter architectural banality so spiritually arid as to bring on clinical depression.

But Ottawa’s planners, engineering consultants and traffic experts refuse to accept this grim, intractable reality. So why are such big plans in store for Queen Street? Well, because the Light Rail Transit route (aka the Confederation Line) will run right under Queen Street by the time it is completed in 2018. With two of the three major downtown stops to be located on Queen, tens of thousands of pedestrians are expected to be added to the foot traffic mix every day.

The Queen Street revamp is the first project under Downtown Moves, Ottawa’s new plan for the central business district.

Downtown Moves has dubbed Queen as Ottawa’s “Showcase Street” of the urban core, with “more space for culture, community and vitality.” (What rot, when Queen Street is dead as the proverbial doornail.)Queen Street Ottawa

According to a Downtown Moves report, “Queen Street will have enormous demands to carry pedestrians to the Confederation Line station entrances along it and will do so by the construction of generous wide sidewalks, amenities to provide safe and comfortable walking, and buildings that will eventually become more street-oriented.”

The new plan for Queen Street should be finished within a year.

According to the City of Ottawa’s LRT website: “We have reached the limit. We can no longer add buses to accommodate increasing ridership through the downtown core. During peak hours, buses are often bumper-to-bumper, moving slowly as they navigate 14 traffic lights, and compete with pedestrian, bicycle and car traffic. The Confederation Line graduates Ottawa to a traffic-separated downtown tunnel, following the success of major cities around the world.

“The largest single undertaking of the light rail project, the downtown tunnel will be 2.5 kilometers long with three stations—Downtown West, Downtown East and Rideau Station. During construction, day-to-day life will continue as normal, as state-of-the-art mining techniques will minimize impacts on residents and businesses.”

Confederation Line
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson unveils artists’ renderings of the Confederation Line that will run under Queen Street.

The precise locations of the Confederation Line stations are now determined:

Downtown West is the first underground station. Entrances will be located on Queen Street in front of the Delta Hotel, and integrated into the Place de Ville complex across the street. (The subway entrance, I assume, will be built on land currently used as a parking lot at the corner of Lyon and Queen.)

Other station features include:

  • A train platform located 17.5 metres underground
  • Convenient access to underground north-south pedestrian route from Albert Street to Sparks Street

Ottawa_Queen_StreetWhat’s nearby?

  • National Archives
  • Supreme Court of Canada
  • Major hotels and corporate office towers
  • Shops and restaurants of Sparks Street

Downtown East is the second underground station on Queen Street – just steps from Parliament Hill and at the center of Ottawa’s downtown business district. This new station supports the highest projected use on the Confederation Line. Entrances will be situated at the corner of O’Connor and Queen Street, and through the atrium of the Sun Life Building. (In this built-up area, where can they possibly squeeze the subway entrances?)

Other station features include:

  • A design that will accommodate intense peak volumes
  • A Grand Hall Concourse 15 metres underground
  • A platform located 19 metres underground

What’s nearby?

  • Parliament Hill and Confederation Square
  • The shops of Bank Street and the Sparks Street Mall
  • The World Exchange Plaza and many corporate office towers

The tunnel will then continue under Confederation Square to Rideau Station. Entrances will be located adjacent to the William Street Plaza pedestrian mall and in the northwest corner of the Rideau Centre at Rideau Street and Colonel By. (Sounds like another tight fit.)

The Downtown Tunnel is an idea whose time is way past due. But how Queen Street can be miraculously transformed into a grand boulevard that will comfortably accommodate two busy LRT stations remains an unsolved mystery.

As veteran columnist Charles Gordon caustically observes in the April 11, 2013 edition of EMC, “The mysterious part: how could anyone think that Queen Street can be improved in any way other than blowing it up and starting over again?”

 

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